Montana Media: Clay Pigeons

Wednesday, December 5, 2007
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New Category: “Montana Media!” I’ll feature a book, movie, or TV show that features Montana and give a brief review. First up is “Clay Pigeons,” which I first saw about two years ago.

Clay PigeonsWhat a unique movie. It’s set in Montana, which is what originally got me to watch it, although it was filmed in Utah. “Clay Pigeons” revolves around Clay, whose best friend commits suicide and tries to frame Clay for it, because he discovered that Clay was having an affair with his wife. Clay manages to hide the body, but then more bodies begin appearing around town, and Clay…well, he has a connection to all of them, unfortunately, which gets the attention of the sheriff, who knows that Clay didn’t kill anyone but has to follow the rules…and then two FBI agents show up once the body count climbs. Joaquin Phoenix is very good as Clay, convincingly portraying a man who has entered the Twilight Zone and is not quite sure how to get out, and keeps getting deeper and deeper…

And then there’s Lester. Lester shows up and becomes a “fishin’ buddy” of Clay’s, and Lester’s extroverted, enigmatic presence is like a force of nature. The way that Lester interacts with people – the sexy widow, the waitress, an office co-worker, the FBI agent, and of course Clay – must be seen to be believed. He is always just one second short of either bursting into laughter – or something menacing. Vince Vaughn deserves an award for his portrayal of Clay; even if the rest of the movie was unwatchable, you would watch it just to observe Lester and try to figure him out.
The sheriff is a friend of Clay’s, and although he knows that Clay didn’t murder anyone, he has to follow the rules. His deputy, named Barney, is a narcoleptic who doesn’t quite know how to behave around corpses. The FBI agents are dry, by-the-book people, although when the female agent tries to relax in a bar, her off-the-clock vulnerability provides some of the movie’s most intense moments.
Like many great movies, “Clay Pigeons” teeters on the edge of plausibility; if it had gone just one step further, the disbelief would have begun to show around the edges. As it stands, however, this is an absolutely quirky, oddly intense, and oft-times funny movie, highly recommended, and has been added to my list of favorite movies.

And in terms of Montana…yeah, I think it accurately captures the feel of a small Montana town, where everybody knows everybody else, the scenery is integral to understanding the people, and outsiders are viewed with some skepticism.

The bottom line: like many great movies, “Clay Pigeons” teeters on the edge of plausibility; if it had gone just one step further, the disbelief would have begun to show around the edges. As it stands, however, this is an absolutely quirky, oddly intense, and oft-times funny movie, highly recommended, and has been added to my list of Favorite Movies.

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